In this essay, the authors explore the relationship or the lack of relationships between large and small actors in the Brick Lane area.
Author: Andy Pratt, Professor of Culture, Media and Economy, Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries.
Published in Local Knowledge: Case studies of four innovative places. NESTA.
The name Brick Lane functions as an international ‘brand’, conjuring images of a distinctive urban space. This inner-city area has been home to a succession of migrant groups over the centuries, and has long played a role as a centre of London’s rag trade. Today, as well as clothing manufacture, it is a favoured location for young fashion designers, retailers and others in the creative industries.
The area around Brick Lane has re-invented itself many times over the years in relation to participants and industrial sectors. In addition to clothing and creative industries; tourism, food and the night-time and leisure economies, are also important industrial sectors in this area. This blend of economic activity lends a particular set of characteristics to the Brick Lane area, notably the embedding of economic activities in local social relations.
The creative and cultural sectors that are dominant in this neighbourhood are characterised by micro-enterprises and self-employed entrepreneurs involved in businesses, with quick turnover of product, constant innovation, and risk. Their organisation is better described as networked rather than dominated by firms. These industries share a common thirst for knowledge and know-how, which has to be timely and appropriate to the activity (usually one to which it has not previously been applied). Acquiring and processing knowledge in these industries usually requires proximity, and intensive interaction, of producers and consumers, and niche innovators. Moreover, it is commonly found in an inter-penetration of the formal and informal, commercial and noncommercial fields. Similar characteristics can also be observed in some of the small retail and leisure businesses in the area, whether restaurants on Brick Lane, or retailers in the Truman Brewery.
But alongside this small, even micro economy, land and property development as well as the growth of ‘branded’ retail and leisure experiences, means that larger firms are becoming a more dominant element in the mix. These new players have the potential – via their economic power- to crowd out and to destabilise a number of activities that seem to contribute to the success of Brick Lane. In this essay we explore the relationship – or, as we will argue, the lack of relationships - between innovation in these diverse sectors and across firm size, to see if innovations are transmitted between large corporate and smaller firms in these sectors.